Do you ever listen to those commercials advertising a given drug where the side effects and risks seem more serious than the condition itself? But let’s face it, drugs may be a necessary evil – indispensable in battling an ailment … or at least the symptoms. But I always raise my eyebrows when research has been performed evaluating the safety of certain drugs and the results are unsettling. And so I’m drawing my readers’ attention to a select group of acid reflex drugs where a recent finding suggests that they may contribute to a greater risk of heart disease. I’m getting acid reflux just thinking about it.
The study examined the medical records of almost 3 million folks with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Those taking a special class of acid reflux drugs appeared to have an elevated risk of heart attacks than their acid reflux-suffering counterparts who did not take these types of drugs.
The frequency of heart attacks was determined to be only slightly elevated for those taking proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) long-term. Another category of acid reflux medication, H2 blockers, did not pose any additional heart disease risk.
But even a “slightly elevated” risk may be too close for comfort among those who use proton pump inhibitors. (Upon investigating, however I saw the figure of an additional 16-21% risk which seems more than a little elevated.) And family members who lost loved ones due to heart disease may even be more suspicious of any possible negative effects produced by these acid reflux drugs.
Controversial Acid Reflux Drug Findings
Those on proton pump inhibitors need to take a deep breath. There is far from universal consensus that these drugs pose any risks or serious side effects.
Some in the medical community label any PPI risk as ‘relative risk,’ which measures the likelihood of developing disease in the PPI-user (exposed) group compared to the non-PPI user (non-exposed) group.
But the actual heart attack risk by using PPIs may be far lower as the ‘actual risk’ may be dramatically different than the ‘relative risk.’
In addition, one should not confuse cause and effect. Whose to say that other factors were not involved with those who experienced myocardial infarction. Diet, exercise, sleeping habits, weight, lifestyle choices, such as smoking, may all impact heart health. There are so many variables to consider.
And the results can further be skewed as so many more people use PPIs that H2 blockers. Those who already have heart disease may even be using PPIs, contributing to a statistical anomaly.
Still, other studies have been performed implicating proton pump inhibitors in damaging the lining of the blood vessels. and again, possibly contributing to cardiovascular disease. Drugs, such as Prilosec, Nexium, and Prevacid may also lead to Vitamin B12 deficiency and hip, wrist, and spinal vulnerability.
A Closer Look at the Study
Once more, dear readers, it’s still not time to panic. One can only read so much into the results of this type of data mining. The study was primarily performed by Houston Methodist Hospital researchers. It was funded by the National Institutes of Health, the American Heart Association, Stanford SPARK program, the Stanford Translational Research, and the Applied Medicine (TRAM) program.
Published in the PLOS ONE journal, the researchers examined prescriptions, physician notes, and procedures of a huge patient database consisting of those who took medication for GERD.
About 70,000 people from the 3.0 million database took either PPIs or H2 blockers for GERD. Approximately 22,000 had a heart attack while on this medication. After careful analysis, it was determined that the PPIs posed a cardiovascular threat.
But to avoid heart palpitations, remember this study only shows an association and not causation. Moreover, the microscope was placed on prescription drugs, and not on any possible over-the-counter medication that may have also been taken. No doubt, some of the folks purchased over-the-counter heartburn items which may have produced or compounded negative effects. There may have even been contraindications between OTC and prescription drugs. PPIs are also available over the counter and users may not be taking them properly.
And even though prescription drugs were examined, the dosages were not considered. Perhaps those who fell victim to heart disease took too much medication or not enough.
Indeed, there are just as many questions raised from the study as answers provided. However, one point that would probably have universal backing is the need for further investigation. A large clinical study seems in order.
Acid Reflux Drugs Linked to Heart Disease? What to Do Now?
OK, so you need rapid reflux relief but you’re concerned about the potential dangers of acid reflux medication. Here are some suggestions, grounded in common sense:
1) Discuss your concerns with your physician about the medication you’re taking;
2) If you are a PPI user, perhaps your physician will be amenable to switching you to other acid-reducing drugs, such as H2 blockers;
3) Talk about the advisability of using over-the-counter H2 blockers, such as famotidine (Pepcid), cimeetidine (Tagamet), nizatidine (Axid), and ranitidine (Zantac);
4) Make better life-style choices, such as eating a balanced and nutritious diet, exercising and sleeping more, giving up cigarettes and alcohol, etc.;
5) Continue your acid reflux education as there are resources that provide natural and holistic methods to gain rapid reflux relief without medication.
Again, please don’t panic about these study results and don’t stop taking your medication! You need to consult your primary care physician to determine a plan of action.
But remember, you’re an active participant in this war against acid reflux. Learn as much as you can about the condition to determine what you can do to help eradicate the discomfort. There are non-medical remedies to try as well which can safely cool down heartburn symptoms.
When treating one problematic health issue can potentially lead to another, it makes sense to examine holistic options.